The Larch Valley hike is the most famous larch tree hike in Banff National Park. It’s a bit of an effort to climb from Moraine Lake up the lower slopes of Mount Temple to get to Larch Valley, but the payoff is worth it, no matter the time of year.
Don’t think you should only hike to Larch Valley in September as it is one of the best hikes in Moraine Lake, no matter the season. In the spring and summer, you’ll love the views of the incredible mountains of the Valley of the Ten Peaks surrounding Moraine Lake as you walk through the pleasant larch forest.
But if you have the option, fall is when this hike really shines and one of the best things to do in September in Banff!
In the fall larch seasonin Banff, the Larch Valley hike treats you to a magical walk through an expansive forest of golden larch trees. It’s one of the biggest stands of larch trees anywhere in Banff, making the Larch Valley one of the best larch hikes you’ll find in Alberta. The only downside is that everyone knows this is one of the best hikes in Banff, so it’s typically very crowded.
We have hiked Larch Valley many times, capturing the various stages of the larch trees turning golden in September. As a result, some of our pictures still show green larch trees.
Larch Valley Trail – Quick Details
Trailhead: Larch Valley Trailhead
Distance: 8.6 km out and back
Elevation: 535 m elevation gain
Larch Valley Hike in Banff – Table of Contents
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Larch Valley Hike Highlights
The Larch Valley Trail begins along the Moraine Lakeshore trail, just past the Moraine Lake Lodge. The trail begins uphill on a crushed gravel trail, wide enough for two people. You’ll hike through a mossy, evergreen forest with Old Man Lichen flowing in the wind from the tree branches.
You’ll cross many charming little mountain streams over the first 600 m of hiking the Larch Valley trail. Some streams go through a culvert under the trail, while others are crossed via a small bridge.
After the 0.6 km mark of the Larch Valley hike, you can start to see the jagged peaks of the mountains which line the shores of Moraine Lake, including the glacier on the peak of Mt. Fay. In season, wildflowers grow along the side of the hiking trail.
The Larch Valley hiking trail becomes less groomed at the 1 km mark. From this point onwards, there will be some rocks and roots on the trail surface, but nothing too bad. You’ll appreciate having good hiking shoes for traction and ankle support.
To this point, the Larch Valley hike has been a steady uphill, but at the 1.1 km mark the trail becomes noticeably steeper as you enter a stretch of switchbacks.
Parks Canada is trying hard to repair the damage done by hikers cutting corners through the switchbacks. Please help keep Larch Valley beautiful and don’t use the shortcuts.
As you climb the switchbacks up the Larch Valley trail, the views of the Moraine Lake mountains become better, especially Mount Bowlen and Mount Babel.
At the 1.3 km mark of the Larch Valley hike, the tight, short switchbacks end, and a series of longer switchbacks begin. Keep your eyes peeled as Moraine Lake will become visible through the trees. When you are standing on the shores of Moraine Lake, it’s hard to believe that the color of the water could get more beautiful, but the deep turquoise color seems to get ever more surreal the higher up you go.
The trees start to thin out a bit at the 1.8 km mark of the Larch Valley trail. Less trees mean better views of Moraine Lake and its surrounding mountains. The views of Banff National Park here are simply stunning.
It’s hard not to stop every 20 feet to soak it in the vistas, and why not? Unless you are in a hurry, indulge yourself and stop as often as you want. The views of Banff National Park don’t get much better than this.
Before you know it, you’ll reach the trail junction for the Eiffel Lake trail after 2.5 km of hiking. The switchbacks end here and there’s a thoughtfully placed bench at the junction for those who need to catch their breath. The Eiffel Lake trailhead also marks the spot where the stand of larch trees begins, marking the beginning of the Larch Valley that Lake Louise is so famous for!
After 2.5 km of uphill hiking, you’ll be rewarded with a much flatter trail through an incredibly large larch tree forest. Larch trees are everywhere you look along the trail. Around the 3rd week of September is when the needles will change color and the collection of golden larch trees is an amazing sight!
The Larch Valley trail winds through a beautiful coniferous and larch tree forest with the massive Mount Temple (3,544m) looming high overhead through the trees. The slope of the hiking trail is much easier now, but still uphill. Even in the spring or summer, the walk through the beautiful lime green larch trees are well worth the effort.
At the 2.8 km mark of the Larch Valley trail you enter a clearing with tons of larch trees. Mount Temple and Mount Eiffel come into clear view, with plenty of flat boulders along the hiking trail to sit down on to soak in the views.
As you venture deeper into this Larch Valley meadow, the views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks mountains around Moraine Lake get progressively better. Deltaform Mountain (3,424m), Mount Tuzo (3,246m), Mount Allen (3,310m), Mount Perren (3,051m) and Mount Bowlen (3,072m) all come into view, while larch trees hug the exterior of the meadow.
There are not many spots in Banff where you are surrounded by so many jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies at one time.
Just when you think the views from the Larch Valley trail couldn’t get any better, the glacier from Mt. Fay (3,235m) comes into view. This is an excellent vantage point for this impressive Banff glacier.
The meadow ends at 3.2 km and the Larch Valley trail renters a larch and coniferous forest. Just 200 m later you’ll arrive at the trail junction for the Eiffel Tower trail on the left. You can hear a rushing stream nearby, but you never get to see it though.
At 3.8 km, the trail turns towards the belly of the valley in between Mount Temple and Mount Eiffel. There are still copious amounts of larch trees around.
You’ll find a series of benches at the 4 km mark of the Larch Valley trail. If you sit and look back from where you came, you may never want to leave. The ten notable peaks that crown the Valley of the Ten Peaks provide incredible mountain vistas.
The larch trees thin out considerably after the benches. There are still a few larches, but many of them are larch bushes due to the harsh growing conditions.
From this meadow on the Larch Valley hike the 360 degree views are stunning, with the jagged Ten Peaks everywhere you look. You’ll also see one of the Minnestimma Lakes on the right and an excellent view of the larch tree forest behind you.
There are many boulders strewn throughout the meadow, which have fallen from either Mount Eiffel or Mount Temple, which look so high overhead.
The Larch Valley hike ends after 4.7 km of hiking when you reach the larger of the Minnestimma Lakes at the Sentinel Pass trailhead. There are tons of boulders around, which are perfect for sitting and enjoying the mountain reflections in the lake, while you rehydrate and have lunch or a snack. Listen for pikas amongst the rock piles across the lake.
Larch Valley Trailhead
The Larch Valley trailhead is found along the Moraine Lakeshore trail which starts near the Moraine Lake Lodge on the west side of Moraine Lake.
Parks Canada has closed the Moraine Lake Road to private vehicles in 2023. Plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss seeing Moraine Lake during your visit to Banff National Park.
How to Get to Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake can no longer be reached by private vehicle, so there’s no longer concerns about Moraine Lake Parking.
There are several ways to get to Moraine Lake, but all involve booking a shuttle or a tour. We highly recommend you read our post on Getting to Moraine Lake, but if you are short on time this is a summary of the best options.
- Best Budget Option – The Parks Canada Moraine Lake shuttles operate every 20 minutes throughout the day and cost only $8 for an adult.
- Best Sunrise Option – The Moraine Lake Bus company offers shuttle rides that will get you to Moraine Lake 45 minutes before sunrise. The cost of this is only $35 per adult.
- Best Lake Louise Option – While the Moraine Lake Bus company offers sunrise shuttles to Moraine Lake, they also offer the shuttle throughout the day and have some time slots that make a stop at Lake Louise. All their shuttles leave from either the Lake Louise Village (sunrise) or the Lake Louise Ski Resort Park and Ride.
- Best Hotel Option – While expensive, staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge will give you all the time you want at this spectacular Banff lake.
- Best Option to Get to Moraine Lake from Banff – With access to a car, the Parks Canada shuttle is still one of the best options. Without a car, the Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle and Explore Banff Tours & Transfers are the two best options. In September only, we recommend the Roam Bus Route 10 for visitors without a car as it goes direct from Banff to Moraine Lake.
- Best Option to Get to Moraine Lake from Canmore – With access to a car, the Parks Canada shuttle is still one of the best options to see Moraine Lake. Without a car, getting to Moraine Lake from Canmore is easiest with the Moraine Lake Sunrise Shuttle or Explore Banff Tours & Transfers.
- Best Tour to Moraine Lake – Radventures offers a tour with stops at both Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Visits to Moraine Lake will be at sunrise and you’ll still see Lake Louise before the crowds. It’s a 7 hour tour that also includes time for breakfast.
In addition, the Moraine Lake Road is only open between late May/early June until mid-October. The exact dates can vary but typically it’s around Victoria Day in May and after Canadian Thanksgiving in October.
Larch Valley Hike Stats
How Long is the Larch Valley Hike?
The round-trip distance of the Larch Valley trail is 8.6 km (one-way distance of 4.3 km) from the Moraine Lakeshore trail to the Minnestimma Lakes. We tracked our hike and found it to be closer to 9.5 km.
How Hard is the Hike to Larch Valley?
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Larch Valley hike as “moderate”.
At 9.5 km and 535 m elevation gain, the Larch Valley trail is more of a moderate Banff hike than an easy one.
Don’t let this scare you, this is still a relatively easy hike to this famous Lake Louise larch forest but there are some sections that will get your heart pumping. The trail starts out quite smooth but it also gets to be more rocky the higher up you climb, requiring you to watch your footing more closely.
It is a consistent climb on the way up, but you can always find a spot to take a break. Once at Larch Valley, you can choose a large rock or bench to take a break and enjoy the mountain views.
How Long Does the Larch Valley Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult 2.5 – 3.5 hours to hike to Larch Valley. If you have the time and energy you can continue an additional 1.5 km (one way) on to Sentinel Pass hike.
We did this hike with our two kids (8 and 6 years old) and it took us 4 hours. This included a lunch break at the Minnestimma Lakes.
Larch Valley Trail Map
The Larch Valley trail is easy to follow the entire way to Minnestimma Lakes and from there you can easily see where the trail continues up Sentinel Pass. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the AllTrails app while hiking to Larch Valley, but you likely won’t need it as the hiking trail is also well signed.
To find the Larch Valley trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Minnestimma Lakes via Larch Valley Trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Larch Valley trail map is found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” Gem Trek map.
Hiking Larch Valley Trail with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, this is an excellent Moraine Lake hike for the entire family. It may be challenging for some kids, with the consistent climb and rocky sections, but it’s well worth it to make it to the top.
Even kids can appreciate a view like the one you get at Larch Valley, especially when the larch trees are at their peak golden colour. Larch Valley is easily one of the best larch hikes with kids.
Take some time at the Minnestimma Lakes to see if the kids can spot a pika! You’ll hear them as you stop there for lunch.
Our kids, who are 8 and 6 years old, are decent hikers and they really enjoyed this hike. They love that they can spot a larch tree, look for pikas and take a break on benches on the way up.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The obvious place to stop for lunch is at the larger of the Minnestimma Lakes or at one of the benches you’ll find along the way to Larch Valley. It’s well worth it to stop here for a break to take in this incredible scenery.
Larch Valley Hiking Safety
Aside from a few sections with rocks and roots that you’ll need to hike over, there are relatively few hiking hazards along the Larch Valley hiking trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the Larch Valley.
That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.
Do you need 4 people to hike Larch Valley? At times you may find that there are group restrictions for Larch Valley that requires hikers to hike in groups of 4 or more. Generally, it’s recommended that you hike in groups of 4, but there are times when it will become mandatory due to the bear activity in the area.
Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.
Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
We recommend you check the Larch Valley trail report (under Moraine Lake Area) for the Larch Valley trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Larch Valley Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Larch Valley hike.
- Mountain biking is not allowed on the Larch Valley trail.
- There are toilets in the Moraine Lake parking lot.
- Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Larch Valley Trail
Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions. Here are a few items we recommend bringing:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.
- Water – the Larch Valley trail is a consistent uphill climb and on a hot summer day you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day. For fall hiking, a toque, mitts, and jacket may be necessary.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Larch Valley Footwear Recommendation
The Larch Valley trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but with the sections covered in roots we recommend hiking shoes or boots. This is especially true if you continue past the lakes up Sentinel Pass
The Larch Valley hike is one of the best for seeing golden larches, if you can stand the crowds!
Other Great Alberta Larch Hikes
Banff Trip Planning Resources
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.